Gary Carter (1954-2012)

Despite the recent Giants Super Bowl win followed by the nightly Linsanity of Jeremy Lin and Knicks I’ve been keeping Gary Carter in my thoughts.  Carter’s passing today is a major departure from the joy of the other events going on in New York sports.

Carter was diagnosed with brain tumors in May of 2011 and less than a year later he is gone.  Pretty much the only player from the ’86 Mets who chose the straight and wholesome path, I felt that he’d probably outlive some of his more reckless former teammates.  But as the story goes, cancer doesn’t discriminate.

Carter wasn’t my favorite player from the mid to late-’80s Mets (Dwight Gooden took that title for me), but he represented the change from the miserable teams of the late ’70s, early ’80s to the magical team of 1986.  When he and Keith Hernandez came aboard, everything came together.  Carter may have had a syrupy-sweet image off the field, but on it he was never afraid of a home plate collision or a scuffle on the mound.

I never got to meet Carter, but stood just feet away from him at a baseball dinner in New York about six or seven years ago.  And I was fortunate to be in attendance at his Hall of Fame induction in 2003, as Mets fans clad in blue and orange meshed with some Expos fans in their powder blue.  His speech wasn’t full of laughs or snappy quotes, but was honest and accentuated his love for friends and family.

In an era where a power-hitting catcher isn’t out of the ordinary, Carter was a rare breed.  Only a handful of catchers before and during his time could match the 25-homer, 100-RBI type production that Carter would routinely deliver during this prime years.

Carter's catcher's gear and uniform from the 1986 season, on display at the Newport Beach Sports Museum

For Mets fans in their early to mid 30s, Carter represents an introduction to baseball.  His enthusiasm and smile showed us how fun the game could be.  On the baseball field he did it all.  Unfortunately, his life after baseball was taken away far too soon.  He is a major loss not only to New York and Montreal but more importantly to the game of baseball.

 

A Look Back at Carlos Beltran’s Time With the Mets

Other than some final paperwork and physicals, Carlos Beltran will be a San Francisco Giant.  After months of speculation, the Mets pulled the trigger and dealt Beltran, likely getting Giants pitching prospect Zach Wheeler in return.

Mets fans seem to have a love/hate relationship with Beltran.  There are those who will remember him for his big numbers, athleticism manning center field and the fact that was the most productive player in late 2007 and 2008 when the team choked away playoff appearances.  The haters will always, ALWAYS remember the final strike of the 2006 NLCS, where he stood frozen as Adam Wainwright poured in a curveball over the plate to end the Mets’ season.  They’ll also think of the injuries and the clunker of a first season he had in New York in 2005.

Here’s a year-by-year look at Beltran’s time in the Big Apple, which has now apparently come to an end.

2005 – First Year Failure

Beltran signed a huge deal (seven years, $119 million) in the offseason before 2005, cashing in on not only his play in Kansas City but also his off-the-charts 2004 postseason for the Astros.  His first year in New York was a dud.  He hit just 16 home runs, drove in 78 runs and batted .266.  He made the All-Star game somehow.

Yadier Molina celebrates after Carlos Beltran strikes out, ending the Mets' 2006 season

2006 – Getting Their Money’s Worth…Until…

Beltran bounced back in a major way in 2006.  In 140 games he hit 41 home runs, had 116 RBI and 127 runs scored.  He finished fourth in the NL MVP voting and helped lead the Mets to a runaway NL East crown.  But the regular season and his mostly good postseason were only a footnote.  The indelible image of 2006 is the last one, when Carlos Beltran took the final strike in Game Seven of the NLCS, with the Mets trying to rally their way to the World Series.

2007 – Don’t Blame Beltran

As much as the end of 2006 stung, 2007 may have been even tougher for Mets fans.  The team blew a seven-game division lead with 17 to play, not only failing to win the division, but missing the playoffs all together.  During the painful September for New York, Beltran was a lone bright spot.  He hit eight home runs and hit .282 in September/October.  Overall he had 33 home runs, 112 RBI and 93 runs scored.

2008 – Again, Don’t Blame Beltran

2008 was another strong year for Beltran.  He hit 27 home runs, had 112 RBI and 116 runs scored.  He also had his Mets career best of 25 steals, and his best batting average as a Met up to that point, finishing at .284. The Mets didn’t exactly gag like they did in 2007, but were in good position to grab at least a Wild Card before struggling late.  Beltran was again very good in the late going, batting .344 with six homers in September/October.

2009 – Injuries Hit

Beltran’s health was not a major concern up to this point but a knee injury knocked him out of action having played just 81 games in 2009.  While the power was down a bit, he was still having a nice year.  He hit 10 home runs, batted .325, had 48 RBI and 11 steals.  Beltran was joined on the DL by a bunch of other Mets, leading to dismal year for New York.

2010 – Offseason Surgery And Not Much of Impact Upon Return

Beltran had knee surgery before the 2010 season, apparently against the Mets’ wishes.  As a result, Beltran didn’t play a game with the Mets until after the All-Star break.  He never got on track, hitting just .255 with seven home runs in 64 games.  He was also very careful with his baserunning, stealing just three.

2011 – Beltran Comes Back Strong, Then Says Goodbye

To the surprise of many Mets fans Carlos Beltran has remained healthy for all of 2011.  He bounced back from the injuries and struggles of 2010 and is hitting .289 with 15 home runs, 66 RBI  and has a league-leading 30 doubles in 98 games.  The only part of his game that has not come back is his speed; he has just three steals all season.  With the 34-year-old Beltran a free agent after the season and the Mets’ chances of getting to the playoffs remote, they decided to trade him after nearly-season long speculation.  Beltran was an All-Star and along with Jose Reyes has led a Mets offense that’s been much better than expected considering the injuries it has sustained.  On July 27th it was reported that Beltran had been traded to the Giants, thus ending his nearly seven-year stint with the Mets.

 

Did Sports With Balls Curse the Mets?

As I was reading Warren’s Mets-Phillies series preview right here on this blog it got me thinking about how the roots of the Sports With Balls Show heavily involved the two teams.  Before there was the Sports With Balls Show there was the Talkin’ Sports With Balls Midday Show.  Before that there was Talkin’ Sports With Mike O. and Scotty B.  And then there was the show that I hosted, simply called Sports With Balls.

When that particular show debuted on September 11, 2007 the Mets were dominating the NL East.  The night I began that show the Mets held a 6 game lead over the Phillies.  They increased that lead to 7 the next night.  From there, less than 48 hours after Sports With Balls hit in the Internet airwaves, the Mets began to crumble.  And they’ve never recovered.

I was all set to watch this scene in the Mets clubhouse in '07 when I began Sports With Balls that September

Those first couple shows I remember discussing the upcoming postseason and how the Mets were certainly going to be part of it.  “Pedro would start game one.  Would El Duque come out of the bullpen?  Should they rest some players down the stretch?”  But after the first couple of episodes the show turned into a more of a crisis center, and then later when the choke had officially happened it served more as a therapy session.

A year or so after my show got its start I merged with Mike and Scott to become The Talkin’ Sports With Balls Midday Show.  Although Mike is a diehard Phillies fan, he generally resisted giving me a hard time about what the Mets had become.  I did enough bashing of the team on my own anyway.

These days I am working a 9-5 job and cannot participate on air.  Along with missing the weekly discussion of sports with friends, I miss the chance to vent about my team — though I’d also probably also have the constant reminder of how great the Phillies are, since there are now two Philadelphia fans on the show.

But it’s a shame that I cannot be on air during a season when I’ve actually been proud to a Mets fan, something I haven’t been able to admit in a quite a while.  The ownership is another story, but the play on the field and the managing job done by Terry Collins have been inspiring.  Unfortunately, in 2009 and 2010, when I joined Mike and Scott every single week I rarely ever had anything good to say about the Mets.

No, I don’t really believe in curses.  But if I did, this one makes perfect sense.  I am a huge Mets fan, I was living in Philadelphia back in 2007, enjoying the fact that my team appeared to be running away from the Phillies in the NL East.  And then I had to go start a little radio show to talk all about it.  The night of that first show I did back in September of ’07 was pretty memorable.  No, not because I was any good or anything, but it was essentially the last night that the Mets were considered a great baseball team.

What Happened To the Baseball All-Star Game?

Here is the 2011 MLB All-Star game roster .  The problem is that MLB.com can’t even keep up with how many players are being added to the roster on a nearly hourly basis, so this is not up to date.  I’ve always enjoyed the All-Star game itself.  But this is getting ridiculous.  With the fan vote for the final roster spot and players bowing out due to “injuries” and then being replaced it feels as though half the league will be given All-Star status this season.  It should be an honor to be an All-Star, but when you’re player number 42 added to the roster just how honorable is it?

Of course the game still decides home field for the winning league and if the game is tight late you’ll have second- or third-tier stars deciding something very important.  You’d think since the game is in Arizona, an NL park, they would play by NL rules.  But the DH will now be used in the All-Star game every year from here on out.

The watering down of rosters.  The AL rules in an NL park.  The “this one counts” aspect.  It’s one big mess.  And the solution is to just go back to calling this thing an exhibition without home field implications.  I’d still enjoy it.  Managers would be more relaxed.  I’d be less agitated about AL rules in an NL park.

And to think if that All-Star game in Milwaukee a few years back didn’t end in a tie, the game still would be an exhibition.  Thanks for the knee-jerk reaction, Bud Selig.  You’ve made the Mid-Summer Classic a Mid-Summer joke.